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A bit more about training

As you could imagine, training was just as you would expect. Classroom and leader led. Jim would sit in front of the class with a projector behind him and we would go through various training scenarios. A big one was the troubleshooting theory. This, as far as I can remember, has not changed all that much. One such theory is something called a split half search. Essentially breaking down the problem, in half, to find the solution. Another such methodology are to use component isolation. Essentially breaking down the machine to its core and necessary components to see what would cause the issue as you slowly re-add the parts you took out.


For example a machine that will not boot or POST will need component isolation. POST means Power On Self Test (I always told my team is was a Pre Operating System Test, because I could never remember the real name). Let's use a Power Mac G4, it needs essentially only a LogicBoard, Processor, Ram, power supply and yes a speaker to boot. Newer models also need a graphic card to boot. Why do you need a speaker? To hear the chime of the machine, the classic boot from sound, that every Mac makes. Also, some machines will give you diagnostic tones, not true with modern Macs. Newer and current models use LED diagnosis on the LogicBoard itself. The process is to remove everything else then see if the machine boots. If it does, you start adding part back into the machine in hopes to duplicate the issue. There are times a failed hard drive can cause the machine to not turn on, or to turn off quickly. On really old machines the watch battery (CMOS on PS's), if bad, will cause it to not boot. So this troubleshooting theory is usually for the isolating hardware issue.

A split half search is reserved for software. You take the machine and split it in half, is the issue operating system or user based. Then from there you keep breaking it down into halves till you find and isolate the issue. To this day I take this same diagnostic path for software issues. Currently, Apple has a fancy system where you plug in the machine to a diagnostic server and then it "tells" you what is wrong, sadly at the retail level if it is a software issue its basically erase and reinstall. While useful it often overlooks what causes the issue and does not tell you or help you find out why it occurred in the first place. For hardware, as things get more sensor based, it's useful so your not swapping parts left and right.


Back to the training, while I don't have much memory of specifics I do remember a couple things that resonated with me. First of all the machines apparently had been taken apart 3000 times. One such machine I remember I took apart just using my hands as the screws were either missing or not really fully screwed in. In one training exercise, we had to take an iMac (remember CRT) and go through some "notes" scribbled on a piece of paper attached to the machine as to what the problem was. What's funny about my machine is I got one with a specific issue that I knew instantly what the issue was.

A little history lesson, these were all running OS9, not OS X which was still 10.0 at the first days of training. We were able to get daily builds of 10.1, which included DISK BURNING, but I digress. With these machines running OS9 troubleshooting was left to that OS, for now. If you're a history buff or just really old like me. There was not much going on in OS9 that was hard to figure out. There were extensions, things that got stuck in the startup folder and various other things, but overall, it was pretty easy to narrow an issue down in OS9. One of the cool things was how easily it was to get programs onto someone's machine. Me and my friend, who was also hired at Apple, spent pretty much every day sending each other malicious files back and forth from...wait for it... ICQ. ICQ was super easy to send files through in 1998 and 2000. So we would be like "hey check out this new Quark extension to make calendars" and it would be a malicious program we packaged into Stuffit. Stuffit had a pro feature that allowed you to essentially "autorun" and it would install it onto the victim's computer. Some of the cool extensions you could run were like Sniff, it basically gave your Mac a cold, it would sniff, and clear its throat every so often and very quietly. Installed it on my old bosses machine and after a week of hearing a slight sniff and cough he asked me to check out his computer, it had a cold. There was Parrot, it listened for sounds then would repeat the sound, then the next sound then the next until it was the cacophony of people talking, doors closing, cell phones ringing that would make you go mad. My favorite was, I believe it was called Melt. Melt would essentially temporally "melt" your screen every time you would choose a menu. it was very convincing and you couldn't use your machine with this prank installed.


As they were dividing up the machines to work on, I just so happened to get the one with "Melt" installed. As soon as I clicked it reacted the way I described. Rebooted, holding down shift, navigated to the extension folder and deleted it. Rebooted everything was fine! Apparently, this has stumped every genius (all 30 of them before me). I was very proud, Jim wasn't. He did give me accolades for figuring it out but basically said I needed to help one of the other guys now. My co-workers had much more difficult issues and I was called to help the writer, he wasn't much into hardware, as I remember. The details are sketchy but it involved plugging in some cable, I have smaller hands and fingers so it has not been uncommon for me to help plug in cables over the years. I remember plugging something and then setting it up to see if it booted. Something fell out of it. Don't know what it was but I remember Jim basically saying, "ok put that one back on the rack and pick another" this one was pretty much dead. The machines were in such disrepair it was really a shock when you finally get to the real world and try taking apart a machine that has never been opened. That was a real challenge, especially with CRT's which I'll get into later. All in all our first foray into troubleshooting was a guarded success.

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